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on the necessity of keeping a journal

Personal February 23, 2015

For the better part of the last two months I was in some murky territory with my self-image. I was slugging along somewhere between feeling depressed and careless; I dealt with much negative self-talk and acute loneliness. When I finally got my head above water I tried to analyze what I was doing differently that had caused this surge of gloom. The answer surprised me: I had stopped writing. More specifically, I had stopped keeping a journal.

I had filled up the pages of one and moved on to pick out another, but as it was New Years I piled so much ceremony on starting anew. And so I waited for important thoughts, for cinematic moments, for ceremony. I put it off, thinking so much else outweighed it on the “important” scale. And to my surprise I really suffered from not having the outlet. Something clicked; I realized what was missing and finally gave up on waiting for inspiration, and back I went to scribbling random thoughts in my abominable handwriting. When I did that, it was like coming home within myself.

It seems silly that such a simple activity can hold so much sway on a person, but it really rings true for me. The only way I can think to explain it is simply that I am, at the heart of it all, a writer. I have no other word to put in front of it – I’m not any one type of writer. My only thoughts when I realized how much better I felt after starting again was, It must really be deep down in my bones.

Keeping a journal is much more explorative than writing for an audience. It’s a practice that first requires and then allows you to dig down through the soil of your soul to the place where the roots of you reside. When we successfully keep a journal, it becomes an appendage, the extension of ourselves that allows the heart and mind to meet up and figure things out. The difference in journaling, for me, is all about the freedom, which I’ve become addicted to. In a world full of articles telling us how to write to attract readers and grow our audience, journaling reminds us how to be alone, how to write for ourselves, and especially how to think for ourselves.

In my journal I may write a list of things that have made me happy lately; I might write a rambling essay or a short passage; I might write my fears or my joys; I may list goals or quotes or write a poem. The only constant is that I never know what it’s going to be when I pick up the journal, and I never know when I’m going to pick up the journal. I don’t set aside time to do it at a set point every day because I’ve learned the flaw of that: I can’t plan to be inspired, and I can’t put off being inspired for a time when self-expression would be more convenient. So all I can do is keep my journal with me so that, when the desire to write something arises, I’ll write something. And I’ll learn a little more about myself in the process.


handle with care

new years January 7, 2015

At the beginning of last year I had one pretty steady, straightforward goal in mind: I wanted to tap into (or cultivate, I thought at the time) my courage. This year my goals have been a little more difficult to pinpoint. A very important wish is that I can work on my relationship with myself, which is a difficult topic to explore particularly because it’s not something I ever gave all that much thought to.

In the last year I’ve learned the importance of getting in touch with the many facets of yourself; especially the parts that tend to stay hidden, because those are often the parts that need the most attention. Those are also the parts that usually don’t get any attention, and that makes everything – our perspective, our happiness, our strength – feel like it’s faltering.

I think it’s increasingly common in our fast-paced, technology-infused society that you’ll eventually take yourself (or at least some aspect of yourself) for granted. It’s amazing how easy that is to do, considering we see ourselves every day, and goodness knows we talk to ourselves every day. I keep myself alive every day; I sustain myself every day. But do I validate myself every day? Do I accept myself every day? Do I love myself every day? Fully? And I don’t mean “validate” like “refrain from judgment” and I don’t mean “accept” like “eh, good enough”. I mean to the bone, to the core, to the heart. Every aspect of myself – my fear, my failure, my not-enoughness. The fact is, there are parts of myself that I forget even exist, fragile feelings that I forget to handle with care; and banging around these highly sensitive parts of myself with blame and judgment is the sort of careless behavior that has caused me a lot of struggle. I’ve realized that for all the thankless parts of myself – the fear, the shame, the insecurity – there’s a greater, stronger part of myself that can offer compassion, but the communication doesn’t happen often because I forget to pay attention to that relationship. I’ve gotten into behaviors that I think we all inherently fall into: ignoring the shame, feeding into the fear. Until recently, I never thought to handle them with patience, respect, and love.

So, that’s my journey for 2015: to remember to pay attention to myself, and to practice accepting every feeling that comes up rather than acting out against it or repressing it to achieve a temporary (but ultimately flawed) sense of comfort. My goal is for a year of the Self: self-love, self-respect, and self-trust. And, hopefully, through those practices and by continuing to adopt an attitude of patience with myself, I’ll be able to take further steps toward correcting the many misconceptions I carry.

My word for the year is delicate, not because I want to think of myself as something fragile but because I want to live delicately, to be open and aware and gentle with my feelings. I often lament that I’m not particularly graceful or elegant, but that in itself is the sort of judgment disguised as truth that I want to try to correct. My journey will hopefully lead me to a place where I’ll be able to meet thoughts like, “I’m not graceful or elegant or good enough” with thoughts like, “I’m doing the best I can and that is enough; it’s a cause for celebration.”

(Unraveling the Year Ahead workbook via Susannah Conway)


small wisdoms and reflections from 2014

new years December 31, 2014

Last year I wrote down (rather unceremoniously) a list of goals for 2014. (“Which are just my goals all the time,” I amended, “But it’s good to be reminded.”) The list looked like this:

To nurture courage.
To “participate relentlessly in the manifestation of my own blessings”.*
To keep making optimism a natural practice.
To choose love over fear.
To continue educating myself.
To learn more from my heroes.
To endeavor to fill my life with goodness and dispense with things that don’t serve a positive purpose.
To cultivate kindness and pursue joy.
To read lots of wonderful books that challenge and inspire me.
To manifest the strength and courage to make things happen.
To work hard in the pursuit of my passions.
To celebrate myself and others.
To welcome every day with awareness, openness, and hope for great things.
And to always “do the best I can until I know better”.**

In short: to make 2014 a year of manifesting courage, strength, compassion, wisdom, and humility.

It was much more straightforward and a touch philosophical compared to my goals for the year before (which looked suspiciouike resolutions – not effective, to say the least). I wrote a guest post on creating lasting goals for my friend Stephanie‘s blog yesterday which explains some of my feelings on the magic-making capabilities of New Year’s when we’re able to set goals from a place of compassionate encouragement. Read More

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on cultivating a spirit of peace and joy

holidays December 17, 2014

There’s an awful lot to be brought down by throughout the year, whether it’s the personal stresses that complicate our everyday lives or the bigger, often scarier things going on in the world at large. There’s always something that prompts our heads to shake, our eyes to turn downward, and our shoulders to sag under the weight of an invisible but emotionally tangible burden. Sometimes you just want to cry. Sometimes you just need to cry. That’s okay. (I’m stilling learning this.)

The holidays have always been special to me in part because they offer a bit of wisdom in dealing with the things that can weigh our shoulders down; rather than avoiding, escaping, ignoring, they teach us to shine a light. The holidays don’t symbolize turning away from what’s difficult, but rather turning towards it, letting the unsightly dark spots of life be seen; witnessing them, accepting them, and most importantly, sending love and peace where it’s needed. What the holidays symbolize, as it turns out, is remarkable instruction on how to live.

It’s no coincidence that light plays a big part in this season, whether it applies to a religion or a tradition or a personal inclination (a menorah, a Christmas tree, a candle, a Yule log). The most basic truth of light is that it is illuminated by darkness. Light can alter darkness, but darkness can’t snuff out light. Even the night comes only because the sun chooses to set.

What this symbolism of light during the holiday season means to me is the practice of peace, joy, and constancy. Not a perfect practice, but a hopeful one. In my experience, it’s about simply endeavoring. I believe that life is about doing the best we can, and the holidays – this season of light and peace, of comfort and joy – help me define what my best is.

Peace and joy are stalwart qualities when they’re nurtured into positions of power within us; which is to say, when we cultivate them and help them grow to a size that cannot be overlooked. Feed them more often than anger and resentment and the difference will amaze you. But we do essentially have to coexist with all the different atmospheres of our emotional selves, just like we have to coexist with all the atmospheres of the emotional world in which we live. I’ve learned that peace and joy help with that, too. Gradually, whenever I’m met with a difficulty that burdens my spirit, my spirit does its best to acknowledge the darkness with the patience of peace while the compassion of joy sends love where it’s needed. I’ve also found that my motivation for sending out love can be so strong that it overpowers that instinct to turn away. This practice has proven to be strong and valiant for me and I’m grateful that the holidays come around every year to remind me, and to help me celebrate it.


courage doesn’t always roar

Personal December 10, 2014

We tend to think that the existence of fear (particularly in abundance) means we must have a lack of courage. Despite having heard countless times that courage is always found within, there’s still a governing part of our minds that believes courage has to be acquired. I believed that for most of my life; I believed it a year ago when I decided to finally pursue courage once and for all, and I believed it seven months ago when I really began to put that decision into action. But somewhere along the way I’ve realized two things: one, courage looks different on everyone. Our idea of what courage is, what it looks and sounds like, varies. Widely. And two, that part of me that was misunderstanding courage had a name: that part was fear.

I know fear all too well because it’s loud. It flails its arms helplessly and pleads against the outlandish creativity and its little offspring dreams to stay quiet, stay where it’s safe. It pleads with courage to stay there, too, because as far as fear is concerned you just never can tell when courage will do something foolish and get you into a situation that will cause you untold embarrassment. And once that happens, courage will leave you there, and fear will be the only one to keep you company. Oh, except shame. And regret. And anguish. Its kin.

But courage doesn’t really leave. It just does what fear, in its blind panic, has trained it so well to do: it gets quiet. The work, then, is to call it back out, gently, and to grow valiant in the knowledge that it’s just as strong and just as reliable even if it doesn’t shake your bones with its volume.

Mary Anne Radmacher wrote, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it’s the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” I’ve written that down, memorized it, and developed it as a sort of mantra, something of a courage-philosophy. But one thing I’ve learned is that it’s a practice. I don’t say those words to myself and think I’ve won or lost my struggle based on their ability to make me instantly more comfortable. Instead, I say those words as a way to acknowledge courage in its solitude, to call it out a little bit each time, and as a reminder to myself to get to know the place where it lives.

My courage may be a spectacularly well-trained quiet courage, and learning that has brought me closer to it.